Step-by-Step to the College Application Process: A Complete Guide

The college application process itself is not flawless, so it’s no wonder that many students feel the tension and fear about applying to colleges in their senior year. There are about a thousand things to get hung on and a thousand other things that seem completely out of your control.

college application
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This journey does not need to be so stressful, though. During this application season, there are ways to take some of the stress off.

For students who take this step-by-step approach to complete college applications, applying to college can be stress-free (and even fun!).

Without further ado, let’s check it out.

Step 1. Decide the right colleges to apply to

There are a lot of schools out there but it’s a classic mistake to apply to so many colleges. It’s recommended that you send your application to five to eight schools. From that list, a number of dream schools, safety schools, and possible schools should be included:

  • Dream schools: The schools you know are going to be challenging to get into.
  • Safety schools: The colleges you know would most probably accept you.
  • Possible schools: The colleges you have strong odds of getting into.

Applying to colleges in any of these categories will increase the probability that you will be admitted into at least one, or preferably more than one, enabling you to choose.

Step 2. Research & visit colleges

Researching colleges is crucial in deciding where you wish to apply. Much of this research can now be done online, with some sites even supplying 3D campus tours and live forums for real students to ask questions.

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To get a better feeling for campus life and the student body, visit the schools near the top of the list where possible. Another good way to know more specifically about your chosen colleges is to attend college fairs, have dialog sessions with reps of visiting admissions, or connect to current students.

At any point, you can start researching colleges, but the process should be underway by 11th grade.

Step 3. Finalize your college list

Most students don’t know that making a solid college list is among the most critical steps along the way as they start the college application process. A perfect college list will consist of schools you’d be happy to attend, which are academically and program-wise a good match and comprise a variety of statistical odds of admissions.

You will need to handle specific goals when making a college list, and determine which ones are most important to you. These could include things such as the size of the college, geographic location, program offerings, and student life.

Then, you’ll need to find colleges that meet those criteria and represent a good school balance to which you’ve got a realistic admission shot.

Optimally, you should finalize your college list by grade 12.

Step 4. Ask for letters of recommendation

Whether you’re applying with the common app, the coalition app, or a university-specific application, letters of recommendation will unavoidably be required.

Before asking for these, make sure you understand the criteria that your particular application specifies for them. Some applications specify that teachers must write these, others request one from a teacher and one from a guidance counselor, and still, others leave the choice completely up to you.

In any case, the person writing your recommendations should know you very well to refer to your outstanding success and be able to provide clear evidence of this.

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Request letters of recommendation during grade 12 early in the year or at the end of Grade 11.

Step 5. Make sure ACT or SAT scores make the cut

Standardized test scores are still an essential part of college admissions, even as increasing numbers of colleges are moving towards a more systematic approach.

Standardized test scores are also often used as an initial screening method, particularly at large colleges where far more applications are received than they can be closely checked.

During the 11th grade spring, you should first take your ACT or SAT. This will leave studying and raising scores throughout the summer, while also allowing for at least two more chances to take the test in the fall of 12th grade.

Step 6. Figure out which college applications you’ll be using and review them closely

When your college list is completed, you can take a look at which applications the colleges on it approve and determine which application(s) you will need to complete.

Once you have done that, you can create an online account to preview the application and get a better idea of what information you will have to include on it.

Step 7. Put together an application timeline

When you have settled on the basic timeline for your college applications, create a calendar that will contain all your future deadlines for the application. It’s a great idea to configure notifications into your phone or mobile device in the days leading up to these deadlines to give yourself a few alerts.

Step 8. Create an admission theme

A remarkable college application will show a coherent picture of a student with well-rounded academic pursuits but with specialized interests and experience.

In general, you’ll need to do well across the board in your academic classes to get into a selective college, but you should also have some specific interests, preferably those that contribute to your potential goals. Essentially, your application theme is your specific, detailed narrative of who you are as an individual and as a student.

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Step 9. Write your essays

You can start brainstorming before 12th grade and even write your essays during the summer. This is a great time to reflect carefully as you won’t be under a normal school year’s restrictions and will usually have a little more spare time.

By early fall of 12th grade, you should be composing second and final drafts of your essays. Before you submit a final draft, don’t forget to have your teacher or advisor edit and proofread for you.

Step 10. Consider finances

For the majority of college-bound students, financial aid is a requisite. If you’re one of this majority, you’re going to have to fill out the FAFSA and think about the funding help that might be available to you.

Many students are now seeking grants to help cover university expenses. There are far more scholarships out there than most people ever know.

Start your scholarship search early, and continue to work on it all across your college application process during the winter of 11th grade. Many scholarships require lengthy, polished essay submissions, so be sure to provide ample time for these.

Step 11. Make a list and check it twice

Check and double-check that all the application requirements applicable to your college and your circumstance are completed.

The requirements for a first-time undergraduate, for instance, are likely to be different from the requirements if you wish to transfer to college. By making a checklist of the college admission requirements for the colleges to which you wish to apply, you can be sure that you will not miss any deadlines for college entrance or essential steps in the college application process.

Final thoughts

Applying to college may seem like a complicated task, but as with so many other things, the college application process is really just a series of small steps that all need to come together in the correct manner.

Now you are informed, inspired, and ready to get started. For more details on the college admission process, visit 10 Common University Admission Interview Questions.

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